Card-Carrying Members, Kind of Pregnant,… — Just Saying: Actions Do Not Speak Louder Than Words

If you maintain that (your) actions speak louder than (your) words, then that is an indication that you yourself are insincere. That is not some astounding new discovery, but it has significant impact on an online discussion I took part in yesterday (see “Experience and Evidence Point to Strong Renewal Rates for New TLDs“). “How are these two topics related?” you may ask. Well, this post will hopefully answer that question.

The reason why I participate in this or that group, why I am a member of a particular community, etc. is not in order to “show up” as a card-carrying member. The reason why I become engaged is because the active involvement interests me. I do not seek Google’s or the Pope’s recognition. My interest is intrinsic. I do not want or need a medal, honor or prize. My enthusiasm does not care what outsiders think.

If you are an insider, then we are perhaps more than merely aligned. We are teammates doing teamwork. When we speak, when we plot and plan, we are taking actions which lead to building bridges and connecting the dots. These expression are not meaningless hot air — they are part and parcel… and they also lay the foundation towards collaboratively engineering our future.

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Unternehmungslustig

“Unternehmungslustig” is a German word for which there does not seem to be a semantically close English equivalent. It is a mixture of “adventurous”, “enterprising”, “thrill-seeking”, “fun-loving” and perhaps also some other concepts.

One reason why this word might not exist in English might have to do with different cultural norms. Americans, in particular, prefer to be independent and unattached, rather than committed to a common cause or goal. Rather than calling one society risk-seeking versus the other being risk-averse, I would say that it has more to do with a different view of the “game” of life. Perhaps whereas one culture is more oriented towards social image and/or social standing, the other culture might be more oriented towards shared experiences.

One odd thing about this is that if you had asked me which culture is more focused on social standing before I had made the above observation, I may very well have said the opposite of what I believe after having made this observation.

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To Own or to Be Owned?

When my girls ask their friends “Do you have Facebook?” I joke and ask them “Wouldn’t it be grammatically more correct to ask whether Facebook has them?” — then they smile politely but usually don’t go so far as to chuckle. ;)

The same can be said for most technology — whether hardware or software, there is almost always a “make or buy” decision. And buying into a platform usually means submitting to the constraints of that technology.

What I find particularly odd, though, is the degree to which these two extremes seem to make up the entire spectrum — there is apparently nothing in between these two polar opposites!

When I navigate to many sites on the web which are essentially not indexed by Google (I have a feeling the vast majority of sites actually never show up in Google’s so-called “search engine”), I sometimes come across sites with messages along the lines of “please help us to make this site better“, and yet even though this is clearly stated, I almost never find people who seem to be willing to contribute in any meaningful way.

I wonder why people are so eager to become Facebook’s or Google’s bitch, yet are so unwilling to even just lift a finger for any random, relatively unknown site. I have a hunch there is some kind of psychological error that happens, along the lines of “if I participate on this site, then I will become a co-owner“.

If that is the case for you, then I’m sorry to pop your bubble: Either you have the wrong idea, or you have the wrong website.

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Definition: How to Define “Retard Media”

Some people find the term “retard media” repulsive — and I think a large part of the repulsion is down to a misunderstanding of the term.

It seems as though many people associate “retarded” with mental capacity or something like that, but in fact it refers to outdated technology — in particular when outdated methods continue to be used, despite technological change having occurred in the “media” landscape.

It is quite difficult to nail down one or even a few defining characteristics of retard media, but there are, at least, several indicators that seem to be quite reliable markers:

  • use of brand names instead of natural language
  • a bifurcation of “editorial” and “advertising” content
  • “content agnostic” media
  • lack of community engagement / participation

When a brand name is used in media, it usually has the function of quasi-validating the content on the grounds that it is an opinion that is held by the brand owners. Thus, for example, Google may say that a video hosted at youtube.com may deserve a very high ranking on google.com by noting that the rankings on google.com are simply the opinion of Google, Inc.

Another clear indicator of retard media is when there are two different types of content — “sponsored” (advertising) and “editorial”. In the vast majority of cases, this means that the editorial content is used as “filler” to create spaces to plaster advertisements onto.

When media are “content agnostic”, that means that any topic is considered as within the scope of the medium in question. For example: A “news” organization might consider anything as “newsworthy“. Such media often seek to be considered as “one-stop shops” for everything. Prominent examples include Google, Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times, etc. While the rationale for such broad scope may seem to make sense, the notion that any single media channel could provide total coverage of everything and every imaginable topic is ludicrously absurd.

Community engagement and opportunities to participate are particularly difficult to measure in a reliable way, but it is often quite clear whether and to what extent a medium’s stakeholders are able to be involved in the medium. If all most people can do is to read, watch or otherwise consume the medium’s message, then that is a rather passive role.

By far, the most clear indicator is a brand name — and whether that is a corporate brand or a personal brand does not make much of a difference. Pretty much all brands are guilty of the primary hallmark of outdated media: Claiming validity and reliability on the basis of nothing more than their own brand names. Many brands base such claims on their traditional and well-established brand name recognition (and the ideas these brand names have come to be associated with). Ultimately, all brand names base their authority on the past, and not on any current qualities. Likewise: By definition, trademarks must be protected and exclusive. This single indicator is so reliable, that simply paying attention to this one attribute is in most cases sufficient to recognize a medium as belonging to “retard media” — and exceptions would only substantiate the rule.

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Topological Maps: Don’t Even Go There — unless, perhaps, you wish to mention the exceptional case in which the map *IS* the territory

One of my friends since many years (who has taught me a lot about the way people might think or perceive stories, digest experiences, come to understand their life, etc.), namely Jean Russell, has posted some interesting remarks about the metaphors she uses (at times, I guess) to understand “the Internet”:

So much of our experience of computers and the internet in the last 50 years has been disruptive. People didn’t know they wanted it, didn’t know what it was or what it did. And when one introduces such things, we use metaphors to bridge from the familiar to the new. Your domain is like your home. Your Home Page. Email is like mail but sent over the computer.

And along with these metaphors come a set of protocols and expectations. If I buy a domain as a home, then I don’t expect other people to have control there. I am responsible for keeping it tidy and inviting other people there. I can get a prefab home or make one myself.

And these are all really helpful ways of using metaphors to help a new disruptive innovation gain traction in the world.

However, if we want to BE disruptive in our innovation, we want to look for a different kind of metaphor. Websites are not just like homes, they have some features that homes do not and lack some features that homes have. If we use models of the familiar in creating our innovations, we aren’t likely to be very disruptive at all.

For many years now, I have attempted to drum home the distinction between domains (addresses, web sites, virtual land, etc.) and websites (the HTML and similar “content” built up on top of the virtual property [note that I view all of the content — whether it is considered “artificial language” or “natural language” — as content; some people consider parts of this content — e.g. HTML coding, especially “metatags” and such — to be something other than content… I’m not exactly sure what, but they apparently consider it to be special in some way]).

Yet whether land or property or building or whatever virtual real estate analogy, all of the above do not draw attention to one of the most noteworthy differences between domains and “real world real estate”: When it comes to information, the map may in fact actually be the territory!

Think about it: When you think of an elephant, do you think of the elephant as an astronaut? Or perhaps climbing the Empire State Building? I would say that before having read those two suggestions, you probably hadn’t thought of elephants that way. You might have thought of elephants standing, eating, sleeping, … — but probably not writing computer programs. Your experiences of elephants have probably included things your brain associates with such concepts as “stand”, “eat”, “sleep”, etc. and when you think of an elephant, you may very well be inclined to also think of such topics. Perhaps thinking of “eating” might even motivate you to get up and get something to eat (see also “Words as Puzzle Pieces“).

Words describe elements of relationships. We cannot think about sleeping without thinking of whatever thing that is sleeping. Some things sleep while standing; other things sleep while lying down on mattresses, with pillows, in beds. The things which your mind conjures up with any particular word may very well have more to do with the way your mind works than it has to with anything in the “real world”. Much like you may associate a certain fragrance with an early childhood experience which might somehow be linked to that scent, you may also associate concepts with each other based on how your cognitive map has stored linked or related concepts.

Perhaps one of the great challenges for creating information retrieval systems that are able to “disrupt” the status quo is how to make it easy for people to distinguish between information sources that are about “cooking food” (versus e.g. “cooking the books”) and information sources that are about “buying food” (versus e.g. “buying a video game”). “Food” by itself is only a beginning: It is but one piece of a puzzle that needs to match up with other concepts. Bringing these concepts together to build a story from these elements will probably involve building complex networks that are not necessarily related by “real world” proximity. Thinking about information as if it had something to do with the way paper books have traditionally been stored on shelves is a sure-fire way to miss the boat.

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Power Corrupts — and So Do Acquiescence, Conformity, Submission and Dumbed-Down Disengagement

Recently I had a little chat about something I posted as a status update on Facebook:

A person who says “talk‬ is cheap‬” is saying more about their own poor‬listening‬skills‬ than anything else.

I followed this statement up with some commentary about engagement– basically, saying that “it takes two to talk” … that talking to no-one is nonsensical, all discussion and conversation should be considered as shared (“social”) acts / events.

Yet these days, it seems as though the only context in which the word “social” is permissible anymore is as a prefix to “media” (and in particular, to media which are owned by very proprietary “big media” corporations). In nearly all other cases, “social” reeks of “socialism”, and socialism is bad because it seems to be incompatible with privacy (and in particular with private property). Ergo: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

That said. when someone’s boss calls up on Monday morning, asking “where are you?“, responding “at home” and explaining that in your opinion it’s Sunday might not help very much towards keeping the job. Likewise, it appears that no one is handing out Nobel prizes to any members of any “flat Earth” society. If you want to play ball, your opinions should not interfere with following the rules… first and foremost: “Thou shalt not question the sanctity of privacy and/or private property“.

If this sounds hypocritical to you, then I think we agree: Saying “you can believe whatever you want — as long as it doesn’t conflict with my world view” may be a politically correct sound-bite, but it is also completely vacuous. This line of argument should only work if the person hearing it cannot comprehend its meaning.

George Orwell was spot on and way ahead of his time when he lamented such mind-numbing meaningless waffle. In many so-called “developed” countries on the globe, children have been fed such garbage day in and day out in grossly perverted extreme amounts — is it any wonder that these people can no longer listen very well? And if people protest being lied to, then they must expect to face police brutality, chemical weapons and more.

People forced into conformity, into submission, into becoming comfortably numb, mindless followers are a rather weak foundation upon which to build any kind of  society — let alone a democratic one.

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Some Quick + Dirty, Sloppy Notes About the Economics of Advertising + Information Markets: Then, Now + In the Future

Over the years, I have written several articles related to the economics of advertising and information markets, but over the past week or two I have come up with a rather simple way to not only think about advertising, but also (perhaps) a way to analyze it with data that might be lying around somewhere for someone to apply for free or at a very low cost.

The first step is to go back (in your mind) several decades — before the Internet. This will, of course, be difficult for so-called “millennials” and even younger folks, but perhaps they can try to imagine it. Back then, there were basically two ways businesses could get a message across: Either directly or by piggy-backing (with someone else’s help). The quintessential direct play was the vacuum-cleaner or encyclopedia salesman, who rang the doorbell and tried to sell the crap right from the doorstep or perhaps by squeezing through the doorway to perform the pitch right in the living room. All door-to-door salesmen were hated more than virtual spam.

Another less virtual kind of spam was (and perhaps still is) quite common: Direct mail, flyers, etc. In case you are familiar with such junk mail, then this is a wonderful leftover flash from the past that will serve very well as an example. If XYZ company chooses to advertise their products / services directly to you via your mailbox, then they will have some small amount to pay to do so. Beyond postage, the company will also have to pay for printing a leaflet or whatever kind of flyer they intend to use for their “offer”. This may be a quite small price to pay — but it is not zero.

In the past century, a very significant “ad-supported” media industry also developed — mainly due to two significant ways the industry could differentiate the delivery of messages. First: the ad-supported media could reap economies of scale, because the price of delivering messages was quite low per message if they could deliver many messages (so, for example: the classified advertising business model flourished throughout the 20th Century). Secondly: Advertisers could assume that the ads in ad-supported media would be paid attention to — primarily because people quite often actually still paid a nominal amount to receive an ad-supported media package (e.g. newspapers). As time went by, big businesses sought greater attention — and high-priced “full page” ads were segregated from the cheap “remnant” advertising which were shuffled off into the “back pages”.

Along came the Internet, and large parts of the advertising industry were essentially eradicated overnight — mainly due to the fact that publishing costs were all of a sudden “too cheap to meter”.

Today, we find ourselves in the midst of a period sometimes referred to as e-cunabula — in which both electronic messages and paper-based messages exist side-by-side. In the paper-based formats, it may very well be that people still pay particular attention to ads because they are paid messages (sometimes these are also referred to as “paid media“). What is particularly noteworthy here is that the very same message costs so little or practically nothing whether it is delivered as an ad (“paid media”) or whether it is delivered directly from a business’ own website (“owned media”). Why would an advertiser pay money to deliver a message that they could just as well deliver for free (i.e. “too cheap to meter”)? Perhaps they are willing to pay this extra fee simply because they are afraid that otherwise no one would pay attention to it.

This is a very precarious state for ad-supported media industries to be in. If people become aware that the ads they see in ad-supported media are not any more worthy than the same messages delivered without such payment, then all messages should move from ad-supported (“paid”) media to business-owned websites (“owned media”). Perhaps to put it the other way around makes the point more obvious: The main reason why some ads still appear in ad-supported media is because the message is so weak that otherwise no one would pay any attention to it at all. Appearing in ad-supported media would become a tell-tale sign much like a black eye is a sign of a lost fight.

In the future, successful businesses will no longer show up as the weaklings who show up in ad-supported media today. The forward-thinking business is compelled to make its authentic business pledge as compelling to the consumer as the consumer is eager to learn about the offer.

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Dicey Concepts Leading to Muddy Waters: Recall, Precision and Filter Failure

The first two of these three blind, dicey concepts have a long tradition in information science: Recall and precision are both based on another rather sketchy notion — relevance. The basic idea of relevance has a noble motivation: to return what the searcher considers to be truly relevant. However: What a searcher considers to be relevant will most likely vary wildly from day to day. There is simply no “true score” of “relevancy” that is valid for all people, or even for the same person in different situations. Beyond that, recall and precision are also often purported to be in some kind of inverse relationship. This is hogwash — please: do the math!

While the above fallacies are widely known in circles versed in information science (and in particular information retrieval), there is a much more grave fallacy that was spread years ago by a professor of journalism, most of whose work I find quite alright — but I am sorry to say that Clay Shirky seems to have muddied the waters greatly with his notion of “filter failure” (note that he has apparently not published anything about “filter failure” on his own website, but there are many videos on the web documenting a talk in which he proposed this idea).

Designing a tool to filtrate muddy waters is far less efficient than simply excluding them in the first place. If you pour a mixture of spurious particles into a melting pot, you should not be surprised to find a rather shoddy amalgamation as the result. The main problem in information retrieval today is not, as Professor Shirky argues, “filter failure”. The main problem is the failure to adequately select the proper sources of information (sometimes also referred to as “information resources”) at the outset.

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Kant’s Big Mistake?

In my previous post I referred to Kant’s “Categorical Imperative”. Here, let me entertain the following suggestion: That Kant made a big mistake.

Kant wrote a lot. If he was consistent in his thinking, that would mean that he wanted everyone to write a lot. Now since he lived several hundred years ago, Kant never had to face the prospect of having to read dozens, hundreds, thousands or even millions of volumes of text, with rarely one of them rising above the level of completely ephemeral blather (in my opinion, this is primarily due to how the coincidence of copyright law and mass production of printed paper had not yet taken its course into its swirling destiny of mind-numbing confusion). Had Kant ever envisioned the world we live in today, he would have probably immediately had a heart attack and died on the spot right then and there.

There is some irony to how my main goal in life is something quite similar to making this frightening, horrific vision actually come true — but to do so in a way that might satisfy the hopes and dreams of literate people everywhere. One of the main reasons why I am so focused on literacy is that I do not feel that publishing hogwash improves anything anywhere (except, perhaps, for people who “make money” that way — and in particular only insofar as it fulfills their financial obsession and their fetish for cash).

Yet I feel optimistic enough to believe that everyone is particularly literate at something… — what’s your thing?

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Go Inspire Yourself!

Seeking inspiration outside of yourself is problematical.

One of my inspirations has a habit of referring to something as “Kantian” — referring to using any maxim as if it were a universal law. If everyone wished to be inspired by someone else, then the burden of being the last in the line of expectations would be rather heavy. Likewise, attempting to inspire others seems doomed to fail due to the often quite shallow depths of intellectual resources available. :|

How to escape from this quasi-conundrum?

There are no easy answers to this problem, but here is one idea: Immortalize yourself! Live in a way that has no expectation of a future, no sorrows or regrets about the past — neither of them exist here and now. You will not become anything, you will not receive a reward, you will not find the truth. Simply exist and enjoy yourself in the present. :)

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